Lonely Planet's new book reveals 101 of the world's most spectacular sights and how to see them on any budget including two in New Zealand
New Zealand's third island feels a million miles from the North and South Island. Named Stewart Island by colonial settlers, and Rakiura ('glowing skies') by the original Moriinhabitants of the area, this sparsely populated island has just one town, few roads and just a few hundred inhabitants, which explains why it offers your best chance of spotting a kiwi in the wild.
Most of the island is protected by a 1400-square-kilometrenational park, where you can get far from the nearest human being and imagine New Zealand as it might have been before homo sapiens first tramped on to the scene. While you explore its silent beaches, muddy swamps, ribbon-like inlets and fern-filled forests, look out for chance encounters with kiwis, which wander at will in this predator-free sprawl of hills.
READ MORE:* Ambitious changes planned for Milford Sound* From mountaintops to the deep sea in Milford Sound* A well-beaten but sublime Milford Sound road trip* A quick guide to New Zealand's Great Walks
At points along the shoreline, you can gaze out over empty waters that stretch, uninterrupted, all the way to Antarctica, beneath a curtain of lights from the aurora australis, and feel just a hint of the lonely freedom of the fishermen who have moored here across the centuries. Afterwards, reset your sense of perspective with a pint at the South Sea Hotel, the southernmost pub in New Zealand.
@ slyellow / Shutterstock
Pier on Rakiura Track
It's often said that visitors to Stewart Island have a choice between 10 minutes of terror or an hour of torture. Wind-tossed flights connect the island's only town, Oban, to Invercargill on the South Island, or you can brave the ocean for an hour-long ferry crossing from Bluff over the notoriously choppy Foveaux Strait. Flights connect Invercargill to Dunedin International Airport, but the only international flight from here is to Brisbane, so you many need to connect through Auckland or Christchurch.
Stewart Island has only one town, which is where almost everyone arrives, and most of the island's 20km of roads link Oban to surrounding bays outside the national park area. To penetrate deeperinto the interior, you have to walk, but water taxis can drop you off at remote bays around the national park so you can start your tramp in pristine nature. Sea kayaks are another popular way to explore, but most paddlers stay close to Oban in Paterson Inlet.
Bunkers Backpackers: A handy central location in Oban and a sunny garden add to the appeal at this small, cosy backpacker hostel in an old wooden villa. (Dorms from NZ$34, rooms from NZ$80; http://www.bunkersbackpackers.co.nz)
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Boat beside a waterfall in Milford Sound.
Observation Rock Lodge: Perfectly positioned for views of sea, sunset and aurora, this small, graceful lodge has a bush setting and luxurious rooms with private decks. (Rooms from NZ$395; http://www.observationrocklodge.co.nz)
South Sea Hotel: This iconic pub the southernmost in New Zealand is an essential Oban stop for cold beer by the quart, fish and chip suppers and great bar banter. (Mains from NZ$18; http://www.southseahotel.co.nz)
Church Hill Restaurant & Oyster Bar: Local oysters, salmon and crayfish dominate the menu at this hilltop heritage villa, serving Oban's best sit-down dinners. (Mains from NZ$38; http://www.churchhill.co.nz)
* Stewart Island edges into the roaring forties so rain falls regularly year-round and its muddy trails are often waterlogged.
* The cool winter from June to August is best avoided for camping, but there's more competition for space in overnight huts from December to February.
* Ferry crossings from Bluff to Oban are reduced from May to September, but this is the best time to catch the aurora australis.
1. The Stewart Island kiwi (or tokoeka) is one of New Zealand's largest varieties and forages throughout the island at night (and sometimes by day).
2. Shale formations in New Zealand's newly designated national park, Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island.
3. Pause at a pier on the Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand's 'Great Walks'.
Best value itineraries
Four days is really the minimum if you want to get into the interior of Stewart Island. The glorious Rakiura Track takes three days to loop around the isthmus inland from Oban, offering prime kiwi- spotting opportunities en route, with accommodation in trekkers' huts or campsites along the trail.
On the way you'll walk lonely beaches with hardly a footprint on the sand and forest trails dripping with fern fronds, taking in stunning views across the island and ocean. At the end there's a day for exploring tiny, friendly Oban and the surrounding bays or kayaking on Paterson Inlet.
With up to 10 days, you can really leave the masses behind and get far from humanity on the north or western coasts of the island. The easier Southern Circuit offers a six-day transect across the centre of Stewart Island from Halfmoon Bay or the Freshwater boat landing, following forested valleys to Mason Bay with hut accommodation for each overnight stop. You'll need nine days or more for the tougher North West Circuit, linking a string of trekkers' huts around the north end of the island, passing dune-backed beaches, rocky headlands and ferny forests.
@ i viewfinder / Shutterstock
Bungy jumper over a river at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy site.
New Zealand has a full hand of epic landscapes, from mountain glaciers to fern-filled forests, but even in this company, Milford Sound Piopiotahi to the indigenous people of South Island stands out.
Dominated by the soaring buttress of 1692m Mitre Peak, this dramatic inlet was carved by glaciers during the last ice age. When the ice sheets retreated some 10,000 years ago, they left behind an almost supernatural landscape of sculpted mountains rising sheer from the mirrored surface of the fjord.
Viewed from the cruise ships that navigate the calm waters of the sound, the peaks rise like breaching humpback whales, isolating the inlet from the outside world.
When it rains, which it does often in this corner of the South Island, foamy cascades surge downhill into the sound, slowing to a trickle when the skies clear again. Stirling and Lady Bowen falls are the most reliable performers, kicking up rainbows of spray when the sun emerges after rain.
To fully appreciate the scale of the landscape, you need to get down to water level. Trade the cruise ships for a guided kayak tour or don scuba gear and explore the remarkable terrain below the water a playground for octopus, seals, penguins and dolphins.
Tourist flights drop into tiny Milford Sound Airport from Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau, but Queenstown has the only airport with international connections. A handful of airlines serve Sydney and the east coast of Australia, but for connections to Asia and further afield, you'll need to fly first to Dunedin or Christchurch.
Buses run to the sound from Queenstown and Te Anau, but many visitors prefer to come here on self-drive campervan trips.
Most people visit Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau as this natural wonder has limited infrastructure and places to stay, apart from the Milford Sound Lodge and berths on visiting cruise ships. Buses and tourist flights run daily from both cities, making day trips a popular option. Self-drivers should fill up before leaving Queenstown or Te Anau as prices are elevated at the lone pump in the sound.
Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers: The lakefront location ensures lovely views from this popular hostel in Te Anau, which offers a choice of simple bunkrooms or smarter private rooms. (Dorms from NZ$20, rooms from NZ$88; http://www.teanaubackpackers.co.nz)
Milford Sound Lodge: Rustic chic is the watchword at this rural lodge providing everything from wow-factor chalets to pocket-friendly dorms, as well as jaw-dropping views. (Dorms from NZ$40, chalets from NZ$415; http://www.milfordlodge.com)
Sandfly Caf: Locals and outsiders come together at this lively Te Anau hangout, great for morning coffee, hearty breakfasts and light lunches. (Mains from NZ$7)
Public Kitchen &Bar: This lakeside Queenstown eatery makes full use of meat and produce from local farms; come for a slap-up dinner after a day trip to the sound. (Mains from NZ$12; http://www.publickitchen.co.nz)
* Milford Sound is famously green and pleasant credit for this goes to the abundant rains, which swell the waterfalls year round, most spectacularly in December and January. The weather is drier from June to August, but temperatures dip and the waterfalls thunder a little less dramatically. The shoulder seasons from March to May and September to November strike a happy compromise, with fewer visitors, but plenty of waterworks.
1. Milford Sound receives a mean annual rainfall of 6000mm, meaning that it's one of the wettest places in the world and has lots of waterfalls.
2. The Darran Mountains reflected in Lake Marian, one of many lakes in Fiordland National Park.
3. Take the plunge from Kawarua Bridge near Queenstown.
Best value itineraries
Due to the limited accommodation available on the sound, most visitors come on day trips from Queenstown or Te Anau, so consider an itinerary linking all three places, leaving room for some adventure activities on the side. Start with a couple of days in Queenstown, reserving one day for rafting, tramping, paragliding, bungee-jumping, canyoning or climbing in the fabulous countryside outside town.
On day three, head off early for the sound and immerse yourself in the stunning scenery both on arrival and along the route before overnighting at Milford Sound Lodge.
Continue on day four to Te Anau, which serves up its own set of stunning lakeside landscapes.
With a week to spare, it would be a shame to enjoy the wonders of the sound for just a day. The legendary Milford Track runs from Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound in four scenery-filled days, passing towering waterfalls, lofty mountain passes, plunging glacial valleys and pockets of rainforest. Boats zip trekkers from Te Anau to Glade Wharf, but visitor numbers are strictly controlled and the route is booked out within days of opening to tourists each year.
Head onward to Queenstown to enjoy the food and party mood, then continue the fun at Wanaka for a more low-key vision of lakeside living.
Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World 2019, http://www.lonelyplanet.com
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